Lilies (and grasses) of the valley

Some of the better-protected roadsides and bush remnants around the Valley of a Thousand Hills are currently displaying a range of indigenous lilies in flower. While these are showy and eye-catching, there is another group of plants also flowering that generally goes unnoticed – our native grasses.

Grass flowers lack petals, but the exposed reproductive parts (anthers and stigmas) can be colourful and attractive in a more subtle way. But you need to keep a close watch as the period of flowering (anthesis), when pollination occurs, is short, perhaps just a few hours.

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They’re back

… is a famous line from the movie Poltergeist II, in which a young girl answering her toy phone in the middle of the night declares the evil spirits have returned. Then the action really gets spooky. Yesterday, the line represented something completely different.

Clover Glycine

Clover Glycine

Last year we discovered to our complete surprise two populations of Clover Glycine (Glycine latrobeana) flowering on our property. Surprise, because the plant is listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. According to the Victoria Biodiversity Atlas, ours is the first record of this plant in the Murrindindi Shire and one of only ten sightings in the Goulburn–Broken Catchment. We fenced off the area surrounding the plants with chook wire, and because of work commitments we missed the opportunity to collect the seed.

For the last 12 months there has been an anxious wait to see if the plants would flower again. Yesterday a yell of ‘They’re back’ echoed around the hills. The Clover Glycine on one of the northern slopes is in full flower, and the plants on a more shaded eastern slope are healthy but not flowering yet.

The next task is going to be trying to collect the seed. I plan to sleep outdoors just so I don’t miss the event (shades of queueing for KISS tickets a long, long time ago!).

Where did you pop up from?

For the past decade I have been scouring our block looking for new things to find. I think I’ve found most of the ‘big things’, so then I look for smaller and smaller things—hence recent blogs on tiny springtails and fungi.

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Ploughshare Wattle (Acacia gunnii)

Sometimes though, nature throws up a surprise. Last week I found not one but four Ploughshare Wattles (Acacia gunnii) all huddled close together. This wattle is known in the district though is not very common. The plants were in a location that I often walk past and if they had not been flowering I would not have noticed them.

Up on the roadside another not so common wattle is also now conspicuous by its flowering. Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima) is a prostrate form of wattle. Before this year, I had only known of one plant in the roadside reserve. So far this year I have located six of them.

Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima)

Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima)

Up on our hill, both plants are prostrate bushes that seldom get higher than half a metre. They both fix nitrogen in the soil. Given the lack of soil on our property, there must be a whole lot of nitrogen looking around for a place to live.

Spewin’

DSCN8727Walking down our driveway I observed something on the ground that looked like it had been left by a wallaby after a big night out (see picture left). After flicking through the books, I decided it looks like a slime mould.

Slime moulds fit into neither flora nor fungi categories. They have characteristics of both animals and fungi and exist as single-celled DSCN9301organisms that feed on other microorganisms living in dead plant material and fungi. However in times of stress, if the food supply is scarce or if the temperature is unsuitable, slime mould organisms cluster together to form a larger, visible ‘blob’. This mass can then move towards light or hunt for food. Slime moulds reproduce by producing spores. When mature, the spores are dispersed and new ‘amoebae’ are formed.

Along our road recently I noticed this orange slime mould (pictured right).

I have a great idea to use these to produce a B-grade horror movie. It will obviously have to be done in Technicolor. (Yawn.)

Kissy stuff

DSCN9083Not much is flowering at the moment. Some of the purple Fabaceae are starting to make their move (Common Hovea, Austral Indigo, Native Sarsparella) and on our hill the Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema pendulais) is looking stunning (see picture left).

Mistletoe is the common name applied to a group of parasitic plants that attach themselves to trees and shrubs. Mistletoes are often seen in the bush hanging in large clumps (of a different colour green) from eucalypt trees. The plant is native to Australia, non-poisonous to humans and an important food source and nesting site for birds.

The roots of the mistletoe are adapted to tapping into the host plant to obtain water and minerals. Given that the mistletoe derives some of its own sustenance through photosynthesis, it is regarded as only partially parasitic, or DSCN9196‘hemiparasitic’. Sometimes the mistletoe root system totally takes over the water and mineral supplies of the host plant, resulting in that part of the plant beyond the mistletoe dying (see photo right).

Birds such as the Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), discussed previously, are important for the plant’s propagation. Such birds eat the mistletoe berries and quickly digest the fruit, then pass the seed out the other end. The seed has a sticky coating that adheres to plants when it has gone through the bird’s gut. It germinates within a few days and the roots begin to penetrate the host plant.

In Europe the mistletoe is a symbol of fertility – because often in winter it is the only leaved plant in a deciduous forest. The tradition is that kissing under such a plant transfers that fertility to the kissees. It is lucky we don’t follow that tradition around here. With so much mistletoe around I’d never get any work done.

Going, going, gone

DSCN8423The appearance on the ridge above our house of a group of Australia’s largest terrestrial mushrooms, the Giant Boletes (Phlebopus marginatus) was reported last month. What was also predicted was their imminent demise due to the patronage of the Fungus Fly (Tapeigaster sp). The fly lays eggs on the mushroom and the hatched larvae (seen in the picture on the left if you really look carefully) tunnel through the mushroom body, quickly decomposing it.

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DSCN8497In the space of about 15 days the mushroom collapses from the robust fruiting body to a slick of ooze on the grass (pictured below) — that is, if the possums, wallabies, wombats or kangaroos don’t get to it first. It’s tough being a mushroom.

If the saying play hard, die young has any credence in the mushroom world, these boletes must play really hard. Their demise is certainly swift.